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William Rowsome (1870-1925)

was Kevin's great grandfather. Born in Ballintore, Wexford. He later moved to Dublin where he set up a pipemaking workshop in Harold's Cross. William and his wife, Bridget Murphy from Boolavogue, Wexford had eight children, seven sons and one daughter : Samuel, May, Willie, Leo, Harry, Brendan, John and Thomas.



Link to a Photo of William from ITMA website

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The following extract  is taken from 
"Irish Minstrels and Musicians"  by Captain Francis O'Neill


During a brief visit to Dublin in the summer of 1906, the present writer made the acquaintance of the subject of this sketch at his residence, No. 18 Armstrong Street, Harold's Cross. Being favourably impressed by his manner and music, the visit was repeated in the company of Rev. James K. Fielding, of Chicago, next day. Of course, Mr. Rowsome "put on the pipes" and played his favourite tunes at a lively clip-a trifle too lively for a dancer, we thought. That, however, is a mere matter of opinion. But the spirit of the music was in the performer, unmistakably, for while he touched the keys of the regulators airily and in good rhythm, his eyes sparkled with animation and his whole anatomy seemed to vibrate with a buoyancy which found suitable expression in the clear tones of his chanter. The instrument on which he played and that used by Prof. Denis O'Leary, winner of the first prize at the Munster Feis a few days before, were Mr. Rowsome's own make. In finish and tone there was no cause for criticism, unless possibly a greater volume of tone might be more desirable in a large hall.


Irish Times 1911


Old-tirne instruments in all stages of dilapidation were strewn about the shop awaiting repairs, the most remarkable being an immense set made on an original design, and which had lain unused in a Clare cabin for many years. Always an impulsive enthusiast, my reverend countryman, Father Fielding, was bound to take a shot at it with his ever-ready Kodak. Yours truly was persuaded-very reluctantly, though-to hold up the framework of the wonderful pipes to the proper level, it being understood that I was to constitute no part of the target. Standing sideways and leaning backward as far as-equilibrium would permit, my outstretched arms presented the derelict instrument in front of the camera.

Three months later the morning mail brought me a souvenir from the reverend photographer in which my distorted likeness was more prominent in the picture than the pipes I had been holding!

Commendably circumspect in his language and reference to others in his profession and trade, during our few hours' stay, Mr. Rowsome has been almost as fortunate as "Billy" Taylor, of Philadelphia, in winning and retaining the good will of his patrons and associates. The artistic temperament, however, may be accountable for many little misunderstandings which sensitive natures magnify into grievances.


Inscription by Capt. Francis O'Neill

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Memorial Card
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Irish Independent Feb 1940


Never was there a greater surprise sprung on "the old folks at home" and the promiscuous array of pipers, fiddlers and fluters at Ballintore and vicinity than the discovery that "Willie" Rowsome had become an accomplished performer on the Union pipes. Having moved to Dublin and married there in early manhood, lie was remembered by the people at home in Wexford only as a fine free-hand fiddler who could also do a little at the pipes.

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Click HERE or on the image above to link to the original 1901 Census webpage.

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Click HERE or on the image above to link to the original 1911 Census webpage.

Blood will tell, and so heredity asserted itself in his case. When he paid a visit to the old homestead in the summer of 1911, his general execution and command of the regulators was a revelation to his family and friends. Replying to a question as to the relative merits of William and Thomas Rowsome, John, the senior brother, said: "That is largely a matter of opinion; some would rather 'Willie's'playing, others would prefer 'Tom's.' I believe 'Willie' is just as good as 'Tom,' and his style is more staccato."

In the language of an admirer who is himself a versatile musician, "his staccato style is a marvel of dexterity, as it entails an expenditure of muscular energy beyond ordinary manual effort. His tipping and tripling are admirable, and his manipulation of the regulators may well, in these degenerate days of piping, be regarded as an innovation in the art. In playing dance music, which he prefers, his chords, save at the end of the strain, are never sustained beyond the duration of a crochet, so that the bars of his accompaniment in reels and hornpipes are regularly filled with four crochets each, and not infrequently varying to the same number of quavers with equivalent rest intervals alternating.


Much more from the pen of a friendly biographer might be added, but believing it would be injudicious to cater unduly to personalities, especially in the case of a musician still in the land of the living, we must forego the pleasure it would afford us to be more generous with space under different circumstances.

Other references to William Rowsome in "Irish Minstrels and Musicians"  by Captain Francis O'Neill. 

The Moloney Brothers

The discovery that the magnificent set of Union pipes of peculiar design picked up by Prof. Denis O’Leary in Clare in 1906 was manufactured by the Moloney brothers - Thomas and Andrew - at Kilrush, in that county, presumably solves a puzzling problem.

The trombone slide, which is a conspicuous feature of the instrument, was also a prominent characteristic of the splendid Irish pipes seen in the pictures of Captain Kelly and William Murphy in this volume. As neither of the noted pipemakers - Kenna, Coyne, Harrington, or Egan - turned out instruments of that type, there is nothing inconsistent in attributing their manufacture to the Moloneys.

It was while acting as Gaelic League organizer in 1906 that Professor O’Leary became acquainted with a Mr. Nolan, of Knockerra, near Kilrush, a good amateur piper and an enthusiast on the instrument, though then well advanced in years.

In early life he knew intimately Thomas and Andrew Moloney of the same townland, who made on the order of Mr. Vandaleur, a local landlord, what is claimed to be the most elaborate set of bagpipes in existence. Thomas was a blacksmith and Andrew was a carpenter, but both were great performers on the Union pipes.

According to Mr. Nolan’s story, they did not manufacture many sets of pipes, but they were always most obliging towards the piping fraternity in repairing their instruments. It may be objected that mechanics of their class would be incapable of turning out such fine technical work, but in view of the fact that Egan, the famous harpmaker of Dublin, was originally a blacksmith, and that the elder Kenna was by trade a wheelwright, there appear to be no just grounds to question the authenticity of the Moloney claims.

When seen by the present writer at Mr. Rowsome’s shop, 18 Armstrong Street, Harold’s Cross, Dublin, in 1906, Professor O’Leary’s treasure was disjointed and apparently long out of use, but it seems Mr. Rowsome experienced no difficulty in putting it in order. It was a massive ebony instrument, the chanter being eighteen inches in length, and, according to its present owner, “of exquisite sweetness and fullness, much superior to an Egan or Harrington chanter.” It has five regulators, with twenty-four keys, and the tones of both basses resemble those of an organ. There are two splendid drones. The tubing and keys are of pure silver and artistically turned out, and the various pipes are tipped with ivory. Experts estimate the original cost at one hundred pounds, or five hundred dollars. The date of their manufacture is not known, except that it was early in the nineteenth century, when the makers were in good circumstances. As the young man for whom the instrument was intended met with an injury, it remained on their hands, unsalable because of its expensiveness.

The disastrous famine years ruined the Moloneys and they were obliged to part with their masterpiece for a trifling sum. The purchaser, Mr. O’Carroll, of Freagh, near Miltown-Malbay, was a farmer of independent means, and an excellent performer on the Union pipes. People used to come from far and near to hear him play and to examine the wonderful instrument. He died about the year 1890, and as none of his family could manipulate this “hive of honeyed sounds,” it remained silent as a mummy until Mr. Rowsome restored its voice as before stated.

 

JOHN CASH

A description of the circumstances attending this patriarchal minstrel’s presence at the Mansion House Reception at Dublin in 1906, where the writer made his acquaintance, may be found on page 228, Irish Folk Music, A Fascinating Hobby, and therefore need not be repeated here.

Through the courtesy of Mr. William Rowsome of Dublin we have been favoured with an excellent sketch of his life and that of his talented son from the able pen of Mr. Patrick Whelan of Scarawalsh, Ballycarney, County Wexford, a versatile musician himself.

"Cash the Piper" has been for over fifty years to all lovers of traditional melody as well as those who affected the display of the "light fantastic to" in Wexford and adjoining counties, a popular and familiar phrase, and although as an honoured title, it is now derelict, there is no indication that it will pass into oblivion for many a day to come.

The name was borne in common by two contemporary pipers, with the distinctive qualifying terms "Old" or "Young," for they were father and son – John and James respectively.

John Cash, who was a native of County Wexford, was born in the year 1832, the historic landmark of his birth being March, after the tithe massacre of Bunclody, commonly called the battle of Newtownbarry, which occurred in 1831. He learned the art of playing the Union pipes from his uncle, James Hanrahan, an Irish piper of repute, a Tipperary man whose wife was an excellent violinist also.

 

Bred in an atmosphere of music, and as his various callings tended to bring him generally within a musical environment, and being endowed with much talent, it is little wonder he attained the distinction of being one of the most famous pipers of the latter half of the nineteenth century.

He married early in life, his wife, "Polly" Connors, being a tidy and industrious woman who could foot a dance against any who ever "took the floor." To his trade of tinsmith he combined that of horse dealer, and his enterprise soon made him comparatively wealthy.

Fortified with capital, Cash could import as many as six or seven score of Connemara ponies and young horses in one season into the southern counties of Leinster.

Although Cash's visits were only of periodical recurrence, and of brief duration, yet they did much to inlluenee the popular musical taste along traditional lines, and to still direct it in the channel through which it flowed for centuries. The same may be said of him wherever he went. He had a long and honorable career as an Irish piper. Otherwise he was an industrious man who led a useful and, it must in truth be stated, a blameless life. He died in 1909 at his residence in Wicklow town, where he lived for many years, surviving his beloved "Polly" only a brief twelve months.

The old minstrel's picture was obtained from John Rowsome, who on handing it to Patrick Whelan remarked: "There it is, and it is more like the poor old fellow than he was himself!" Sir Boyle Roehe couldn't do better.

 

JAMES CASH

James, commonly known as "Young Cash," in contradistinction to the elder - his father - is believed to have been one of the most brilliant lights of the profession which his native province of Leinster has produced, as far as we have any definite knowledge. Inheriting the musical faculty and nurtured under condition which gave every facility to the unfolding of latent talent, he graduated as a sterling Irish piper whilst yet but a boy. Possessing marvellous execution on the chanter in the rendering of reels, doubles, and hornpipes, and dance music generally, he was no less an adept in playing waltzes, marches, airs, and miscellaneous compositions.

His acumen and dexterity in the manipulation of the regulators in producing harmonic accompaniments was such as to win the approbation of the wealthy and refined, and commend him to the patronage of the nobility of the land.

All of the family - boys and girls - were born at Kilmore, County Wexford, the date of his birth being October, 1853. After a short but eventful life, this gifted musician died at Rathdrum in 1890, ere he had attained his thirty-eighth year. Too much conviviality, an evil almost inseparable from his profession, led to certain infirmities from which neither age nor youth may hope to escape.

"My estimate of the younger Cash, based on acquaintance and general experience, is," writes Mr. Wm. Rowsome, the versatile piper and pipemaker of Dublin, "that he was the star piper of the whole globe. I had the opportunity of hearing the best pipers of Ireland. Among them were many marvellous performers who could play an Irish tune to suit the most critical, but James Cash could play a tune in ten different styles before he would finish, and, what was still more astonishing, he could converse on any subject while doing so. Many a conversation I had With him in my old home at Ballintore when he was playing a difficult hornpipe for a noted dancer named Lawrence Murray, now living at Avoca Mills, County Wicklow."

During the whole period of his meteoric career he was a frequent visitor at the picturesque and commodious farmstead of Mr. Samuel Rowsome of Ballintore, Ferns, County Wexford, himself a fine performer on the Irish pipes. By this hospitable family his memory and that of his father as well are religiously cherished, and his technique of pipe-playing adopted by the younger generation of that famous family of pipers.

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, no tribute could excel that of the Rowsomes who are carving niches in the Temple of Fame; but let it not be forgotten that whosoever aspires to the musical mantle of the lamented James Cash must aim high indeed.

 

From Irish Folk Music – A Fascinating Hobby, Capt. Francis O'Neill,
CHAPTER XXIII          FAMOUS PIPERS  -  The Dublin Group

John O’Reilly of Dunmore, County Galway, the dean of the assemblage, won the highest honours jointly with James Byrne of Mooncoin, County Kilkenny. The former is described as “a blind man of smart appearance with a jet black goatee beard and clean shaven upper lip, which gives him the appearance of a returned Yank.” Though seventy-three years of age, not a grey hair gives warning of life’s decline. His playing, which was far superior to his performance of previous years, may be attributed in some degree to his splendid set of pipes, recently purchased from William Rowsome, the clever pipemaker of Harold’s Cross, Dublin.

 

From Irish Folk Music – A Fascinating Hobby, Capt. Francis O'Neill, 1910
CHAPTER XI
            AMUSING INCIDENTS AND EXPERIENCES



The Irish were always noted for their drollery and humour, and this incident but serves to show they have not deteriorated in that respect, even when apparently unconscious of their mirth-provoking absurdities.

While visiting Mr. Rowsome, an excellent Irish piper and pipe maker in Dublin a week later, in strolled John Cash, the aged piper from Wicklow County, who had come all the way to play at the Mansion House reception in connection with the annual Leinster Feis.


A well-built and corpulent man he was, deliberate in speech and movement, and well past the scriptural limit in years. After fortifying himself with a generous stimulant he “put on the pipes,” a set as wheezy and antiquated as their owner, but his weary and uncertain manipulation of them in the effort to play “Nora Chreena” with concords on the regulators, showed all too plainly that age and affliction had unstrung the nerves and broken the spirit of the old bard. In his dignity and helplessness, John Cash was a truly pathetic figure.




 

Thomas Rowsome

(18?? - 1928)

Of this member of the Rowsome family of pipers we call say nothing from personal knowledge, but we are reliably, informed that Thomas Rowsome is not inferior to his brother William as a performer on the Union pipes. In fact, some are inclined to believe that, in rendering Irish airs with the manipulation of the regulators, Thomas has the advantage. At any rate it speaks well for the latter's ability that he was awarded first prize at the Dublin Feis Ceoil competition among pipers in 1899. Winning third prize even, in 1897, when "Bob' Thompson of Cork and Turlogh Mc Sweeney, "the Donegal piper," were awarded first and second prizes respectively, was no small honour indeed. From a discriminating pen we learn that "Tom" Rowsome is a fine, steady player, and at times even a brilliant one. At single jigs it would be hard to beat him, though in general execution his style may be considered too open and flutelike. However, that is a matter of individual taste. As regards time, he stands pre-eminent ; his last bar of a jig or reel, in fact of any tune, is played in precisely the same time as the first, and no dancer can him to accelerate his pace or tempo. Mr. O'Mealy, the well-known piper and pipemaker of Belfast, who played in concert with him on various occasions, speaks very highly of his social qualities. Nothing else could have been expected from his father and mother's son, anyway. Differing from his brother, John and William, at least in one respect, he stuck to his first love-the Union pipes-and, notwithstanding his musical education acquired under Herr Blowitz of Ferns, his taste for traditional Irish music remained uncorrupted and undiminished. All three became skilful pipers under the instruction of their father, Samuel Rowsome, the famous farmer-piper of Ballintore, Ferns, County Wexford, and all three have won distinction in that line of musical art. The "Harvest Home" was an established institution at Ballyrankin, Clobernin, Farmley, Morrison's, St. Aidan's Palace, and many other residential seats of the wealthy in north Wexford.. The attendance of the three brothers was ever in requisition at those annual celebrations, "Willie's" reputation as a violinist being less than that of his elder brothers as pipers, only in the degree that the fiddle is deemed an instrument inferior to the Union pipes in giving to traditional Irish music its characteristic tonality. The "Harvest Home," be it understood, was essentially the same as the "Flax Mehil" in other parts of Ireland-all private festivals-the assembly consisting of the family , friends, employees, and guests. During this period Thomas Rowsome became closely associated with the late James Cash in his periodical visits to the Rowsome homestead.

               

Together "Young Cash" and the youthful enthusiast would proceed to a secluded nook in the garden, or,the weather being unfavourable, to a private roomin the house, and indulge in long-sustained spells of practice, for everything new in music which the wanderer had picked up on his rambles through Munster and Connacht he would impart to his beloved protege. More than once old Mr. Rowsome would come upon them in the act of playing one instrument together, each with one hand fingering the chanter. Tom, you will become a great piper yet," Cash would say, as a presentiment of his own impending death would cloud his brow. "The music of your chanter will thrill audiences when the name of James Cash will be but a reminiscence or merely the subject of unsympathetic gossip." The forecast was prophetic, for he died in his thirty-eighth year, while his friend Thomas Rowsome, now a municipal employee of the city of Dublin has made a name for himself in the world of music. , His engagements are many, not alone in his native land, but on the stage and in the halls of London, Glasgow, and other cities and towns across the Channel, where the mellifluent tones of the "Irish organ" in the hands of a capable performer never fail to arouse the most enthusiastic applause. About forty-six years of age, over six feet in height, handsome and of impressive appearance, "Tom" Rowsome may not owe all his popularity to his musical gifts. He is also accused of being both genial and kindly, yet apparently insensible to female charms Whoever the "King of the Pipers" may be, an ardent admirer insists "he is one of the Princes and Heir Presumptive. "Still there are others.

 

John Rowsome

“For power of extracting a strong, voluble tone from the chanter, and imparting a beautiful expression to the music, he has few peers and certainly no superior.” Such is the language of an enthusiastic admirer in describing the accomplishments of John Rowsome, the eldest Son of Samuel Rowsome of Ballintore Ferns, County Wexford, who resides on the old homestead and is consequently unknown to fame. As Mr. Whelan is a very interesting though somewhat partial writer we will let him continue: “There are surely none more conversant with the law of modulation in music. To hear him play a great Irish reel is like listening to the warring elements of nature. The music from his chanter comes with the impetuosity of the wind, which gathers force in its gambols down the mountain side to accelerate its wild career over the plain. And anon it lingers or seems to linger, and goes on again with increased velocity. It comes in undulating waves of sound, and breaks upon the ear as the swells of the ocean break upon the beach and disperse around the feet of the spectator.

“Who that has listened to the roar of the distant cataract in the stillness of the night would fail to be impressed with a sense that a greater volume of water overleaps the rock, and plunges into the chasm below with correspondingly increasing fury at certain intervals than at others?

“Any or all of the above similes might he taken as illustrations of his music, yet they are but poorly or indifferently put, for still the music swells, breaks, leaps, curvets, sighs, murmurs, ripples, laughs, rolls, thunders, on the ear of the enraptured listener.

“The noise emitted through the chanter and from the strings of many of the swelled heads, is mete musical chatter in comparison to his playing, nor is it to be wondered at, since the musical faculty with him was inborn, and James Cash, that ‘prince of pipers,’ was through all his early years his most intimate associate, friend, and tutor.”

But coming back to earth from Patrick Whelan’s aerial flights, we hasten to inform the reader that John Rowsome, as well as his brothers Thomas and William, studied music under Herr Jacob Blowitz, a German professor, who resided in Ferns from 1878 to 1885, and became efficient performers on various orchestral instruments. John was famous on the cornet, on which he could play jigs as fluently as William could on the violin. Strange to say, heredity overcame their training under Professor Blowitz, and all three owe their present fame to their skill as performers on the Union bagpipes.

Since succeeding his father in the management of the farm, John has not played in public, nor has he continued his practice of music except in a desultory way in private. Just as he would be warming up to his work and when his audience would be anticipating a musical treat, he would strike a few chords on the regulators and put away the instrument heedless of protest or entreaty.

Nearing the half century milestone in age, he is unostentatious in the extreme, though active in all that pertains to the revival of interest in Irish music, and the art of giving it traditional expression on Ireland’s national instrument. He has furbished, repaired, renovated, and reeded more foundered sets of bagpipes, for the unskilful, than any other man in the south of Ireland.

Neither is this splendid type of the whole-souled Irishman inclined to “hide his light under a bushel,” like so many excellent pipers whom we could name.

John Rowsome sees no glory in taking his art or his tunes to the grave with him. Like so many small-bore musicians afflicted with atrophied consciences. On the contrary, to his great credit, he is teaching his art, as his generous-hearted father did before him, to all who cared to learn. Among his present pupils are his young neighbors, David and Bernard Bolger, of the manufacturing firm of “David Bolger and Sons,” and their maternal uncle, Joseph Sinnott, draper at Enniscorthy. Who is active and enthusiastic in Gaelic circles.

Wealthy, popular, and patriotic, three members of the Bolger family represented constituencies in the first election assembly which supplanted the Grand Jury system in Wexford, and it is quite within the bounds of probability that in the near future two “gentlemen pipers” of the name will succeed their honored relatives in the same capacity.